As Virginia deals with tragedy, one has to wonder if red flags missed
UVa officials said they had no warning from students of George Huguely's temper
But Huguely's 2008 arrest on intoxication and other charges was public record
Police said Huguely had to be subdued with a Taser after threatening officers
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- As candles held by several thousand of his students flickered Wednesday evening, University of Virginia president John Casteen's voice quivered.
"We know very little at this point," Casteen said, "about Yeardley's dying."
Yeardley is Yeardley Love, the beloved Virginia senior lacrosse player whose murder last weekend set an entire university on its heels. In a jail cell a few miles away sat George Huguely, the Virginia senior lacrosse player accused of Love's murder. The two Maryland natives -- Love from suburban Baltimore and Huguely from suburban Washington -- had been a couple. Then they weren't anymore. Then Love was found dead in a pool of blood on her pillow early Sunday morning.
Huguely's attorney insists Love's death was an accident. Prosecutors disagree. They're charging Huguely with first-degree murder. According to documents obtained Wednesday by the Charlottesville Daily Progress, police have retrieved the laptop Huguely told them he had taken from Love's room along with a red-stained Virginia shirt and a letter to Love. A preliminary autopsy report could come back as early as Thursday. Police have spent this week interviewing those who knew the victim and the accused, looking for evidence of intent on Huguely's part. Such evidence could be the difference between manslaughter and murder.
So far, no examples of previous domestic incidents have made their way into the public sphere. Rumors have flown across the campus that Thomas Jefferson founded, but none of them have been verified publicly. Still, Casteen's remarks at Wednesday's candlelight vigil and statements made by Casteen and other university officials during a Wednesday news conference suggest someone saw something -- some sort of warning sign -- and did nothing.
Dean of students Allen Groves and athletic director Craig Littlepage have heard the whispers about Huguely's temper since his arrest, but each said Wednesday that no one came forward before Love's death to suggest anything unusual. "None of that came to my attention," Groves said. "Not to the office of the Dean of Students."
At the vigil, Casteen implored students to speak up if they suspect domestic abuse. Maybe that wouldn't have saved Love's life, but maybe it would have. "Don't hear a scream," Casteen told the students. "Don't watch abuse. Don't hear stories of abuse and stay quiet."
That, of course, is easy to say now. It's not so easy to do for college students subject to myriad social pressures. Casteen, Groves, Littlepage and the rest of the administrators at Virginia must work to change a culture that makes it all too easy to remain silent.
Casteen and company also must change their own culture. Someone in a position of authority at Virginia should have known about Huguely's November 2008 arrest in Lexington, Va., on charges of intoxication, public swearing and resisting arrest before they read about it in The Washington Post this week. Littlepage said that not even men's lacrosse coach Dom Starsia knew of the incident. That's fairly disturbing, considering Lexington police officer R.L. Moss used a Taser on Huguely, who, Moss told the Post, threatened to "kill all of y'all." Moss also said Huguely didn't remember being tased.
It came as news to Casteen this week that the state of Virginia keeps a database of people convicted of crimes in the state. He said the school would begin using that database to check backgrounds. That database that eluded Virginia officials until this week, by the way, can be found easily by searching "Virginia criminal records" on Google.
Casteen lamented that no law exists requiring municipalities to alert universities when a student is arrested. He also criticized Lexington officials, wondering aloud why they hadn't made a bigger deal out of the case if Huguely had indeed threatened to kill an officer.
Had someone at Virginia known about the 2008 offense, maybe Huguely could have received some help. Anyone who gets so drunk that they don't remember being hit with a Taser could benefit from some treatment.
Or maybe someone did know and was too afraid to speak. Either way, a potential red flag was missed. Now a young woman has been killed weeks short of her college graduation. Love's family will bury her Saturday in Maryland. At Virginia, they'll try to take away a lesson from a senseless killing. "My hope for Yeardley, and for you, is that her death inspires an anger, a sense of outrage," Casteen told the students.
The Virginia Gentlemen, the school's male a cappella choir, closed the vigil with a rendition of Pink Floyd's On the Turning Away. On a night when university officials wondered openly if anyone turned away from warning signs that, if reported, might have saved Love's life, the last few lines carried extra weight.
No more turning away
The Gentlemen turned and filed off the stage. Everyone else remained still for nearly a minute. The flames from their candles danced as that final question hung in the air.